Twitch is not often thought of as a political platform. For the most part, streamers are quite careful to keep there politics off of Twitch altogether. Most streamers are gamers, or in Just Chatting, and don’t want to risk upsetting a portion of their fan base that may not agree with their views. It’s no secret that Twitch (owned by Amazon) tends to lean left, causing conservative streamers to hide their views for fear of being banned for saying the wrong thing. It’s also no secret that Twitch relies heavily on advertising to continue running the site, meaning streamers of all types of political opinion are careful not to say anything that may be deemed “ad-unfriendly.”
Hasan Piker is perhaps the most well-know political streamer on Twitch, although he is relatively new to the platform. He started his political commentary career working for Cenk Uygur on The Young Turks (TYT). The Young Turks are a left wing news/opinion show that started posting videos and streaming on YouTube but has since expanded onto a few other platforms.
Piker started streaming just a few years ago in 2018. He still worked with TYT, but wanted to branch out into making his own content. On Twitch, he goes by Hasanabi and spends his stream time playing video games and looking at and talking about current events with his viewers. His “About” section on Twitch says: “I’m a political commentator irl trying to avoid heated gaming moments.”
As of early 2020, Piker announced he was leaving TYT. It’s unclear whether he was let go, chose to leave, or both, but either way it’s not hard to understand why he made the switch. While Piker was doing quite well with TYT, his stream had been building up a dependable audience, with enough viewers that Piker was able to make money on his own stream.
Without TYT he was able to speak his mind more easily and without worrying he’d get an entire organization in trouble. He could connect with his viewers in a more direct way. And most importantly, he could be in control of his content. At some point (I can’t pinpoint when), Piker even became a Twitch Partner, and still is.
However, even with his heavily left wing politics, even Piker has not been completely safe from media flack or push-back from Twitch. In 2019, he even received a 7-day ban after going on an on-stream rant about Dan Crenshaw’s comments on The Joe Rogan Experience regarding maintaining military bases in other countries.
In his anger, Piker stated that “America deserved 9/11” causing many Americans, especially those who lost loved ones or experienced trauma related to 9/11, to become extremely angry with Piker. He made these comments while streaming on his personal Twitch channel, but he was still working for TYT at the time.
In this clip, he discusses the controversy with Uygur on TYT:
After the 7-day ban, Piker’s viewership on Twitch shot up even more. It’s very common for a Twitch streamer to see a surge of views after a ban (everyone loves controversy). You can see from his TwitchTracker data that there is a small gap in August (his ban) and by October he sees a huge spike. After this point, his popularity continued on an upward trend.
In an interview with Cosmopolitan in 2018 (before the Dan Crenshaw controversy), Piker discussed why his “un-woke” moments made him a better content creator:
Piker argues that wokeness shouldn’t require perfection, and that his imperfection makes him more relatable – and more popular – than he would be if he stuck to the script. “What the media does well is just whittle down your personality and reduce you to one thing, and no one is that,” Piker says.“Woke Bae” Hasan Piker Wants Your F*ucking Attention” by Hannah Smothers
Considering the result of his “America deserved 9/11” controversy, I’d say he may have a point. His mistake ended up getting him more views, and even though it was a very offensive comment to some, others could relate to the sentiment, however uncouth it may have been when he said it.
Though most people aren’t on Twitch to hear about politics, I think in the future Twitch could be a good platform for political commentators to use because…
- streamers can directly and immediately answer questions or respond to comments viewers have
- it’s easy for streamers to ban toxic viewers in chat, making it easier to control hate speech when it happens
- sometimes it’s difficult to get through YouTube videos related to politics- they’re often long, kinda boring, and usually too edited or performed. Streaming allows for a causal way to express political thought and opinion (in my opinion, casual political discussion usually ends up being more meaningful and thought provoking).